Let me tell you about a place that I love with all of my heart – a place that makes my eyes water from nostalgic emotions and the spiciest mustard on the planet. I love this place because it serves delicious food – I love it because it is historic and has a story and an identity – I love it because it is located in my sunny home state of California. These are all things that speak the love language of my heart, but I love it mostly because it reminds me of my family. This place is part of our story – part of our history and tradition.
So, this humble post is dedicated to Philippe’s, home of the Original French Dip, and to my Mom for Mother’s Day (and also to my Aunt Valerie who is a mother and to Cecil who is their mother and really to Wayne too, who isn’t a mother but definitely deserves a special nod)…
Philippe’s was founded in 1908 by Philippe Mathieu. After accidentally dropping a baguette into some beef pan drippings, the “Original French Dip” was born. Praise the Lord for that. There’s some controversy on the actual circumstances surrounding the fateful dropping of the bread and who actually subsequently requested the accidental sandwich, but who cares? The most important thing is that we ended up with juicy, flavorful, meaty, sandwichy goodness.
While Philippe’s was sold in 1927, it has been owned and operated by the same family since. Not a lot else has changed
since then, either. For instance, the floor is still covered in sawdust. The coffee is still ten cents, the lemonade seventy cents. The mustard is still so spicy that it will literally make you cry. Ladies, called “carvers,” still take your order behind the counter and serve you almost immediately. They wear the same uniforms. Pickled beets, eggs and pigs feet are still offered, purple and ostentatious. Potato salad, macaroni salad, tapioca pudding, fruit pies, pecan pies, cream pies – all of these remain on the menu. Beef, lamb or pork sandwiches can be dipped or double dipped. The lines continue to extend to the back of the room. The only thing that seems to change are the articles and reviews of Philippe’s that are posted on the walls. In accordance with the spirit of the place, history and stories surround you.
You will make new friends in the line at Philippe’s. Everyone is exited to tell their neighbor about how Philippe’s is their place. They’re excited to share their personal story and offer a recommendation of what to order. I used to think that our Philippe’s story was unique; that we’re the only ones that consider it sacred, sawdust-covered ground. But I’ve discovered that almost everyone in the line has been there many times before. Most likely,
they started coming with their parents or grandparents, just like me. It’s a good thing that you will make friends in line, as you may be sitting next to these same folks at the communal tables that all diners eat at. Sharing stories, tables and tasty, tasty food is a beautiful thing.
In turbulent times, it’s nice to go to a place that seems significant and unchanged. Philippe’s is a beacon – a reminder that good things can last through World War II and the Depression and whatever economic crisis we find ourselves in. I know I’m giving a lot of existential meaning to a French Dip sandwich shop here, but the place has significance! My grandpa, Wayne went there for years and years, then he took my grandma, Cecil, and they took my mom, Paula and her sister, Valerie. Then they all took me, and later my cousin Gabriel. Going to Philippe’s was a family outing; birthdays, Mother’s Days, Father’s Days. When my Grandpa Wayne passed away, we went to Philippe’s in his honor. When my Grandma Cecil passed away, off to Philippe’s to eat her favorite, a lamb sandwich. Since then, I’ve insisted on sharing spicy mustard and pickled beets with Jon, my husband and Jason, one of my dearest friends. Now they’re part of the story. When I go, I get more than my regular double
dipped beef – I get to feel a connection to people that I love – people that I can’t necessarily hug or kiss or speak to anymore. Instead, I do what I do best; EAT (with a lot of reminiscence on the side). I can picture my young and dapper Grandpa ordering his favorite sandwich from his favorite Carver. He would know her by name. He would know her story and she would remember his regular order. Again, I can blame the tears on the mustard.
Normally I love to get really passionate and intense about food and flavor, and there is definitely some delicious noshing to be had at Philippe’s, but here I would encourage you to head to there for other reasons. I’m convinced that once you step through the door you will feel the connection with everyone else who has been going there for years. You will definitely come back for the sandwiches, but you will also return to this historic place because it will be part of your story. You can make it a tradition. Let’s share a table.Philippe’s – The Original 1001 North Alameda Street Los Angeles, CA 90012
Let it be known that Philippe’s is actually pronounced like “Fil-eeeps” – we, however incorrectly, call it “Fil-ip-eees.” Way better.